Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today condemned Libyan President Muammar Al-Qadhafi’s actions against protestors as possible crimes against humanity, calling for the punishment of those who “brutally shed” the blood of innocents.
“I have strongly condemned, again and again, what he has done. It is totally unacceptable,” Mr. Ban told reporters after rushing back early from a trip to Los Angeles to confer with his senior advisers on the Libyan crisis at United Nations Headquarters in New York.
“I am sure that the international community are considering a broad range of options,” he said, referring to his own extensive appeal he made to the Libyan leader in a long telephone call on Monday to end violence immediately. “He has not heeded to that… the Government of Libya must meet its responsibility to protect its people…
“At this critical juncture, it is imperative that the international community maintain its unity and act together to ensure a prompt and peaceful transition.”
Summarizing his position on the violence, which according to some media reports has claimed over 1,000 lives, Mr. Ban underscored what the UN special advisers on the prevention of genocide and the responsibility to protect said yesterday.
“The reported nature and scale of the attacks on civilians are egregious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. I condemn them, loudly and without qualification,” he said. “Those responsible for brutally shedding the blood of innocents must be punished.”
Describing Monday’s 40-minute phone conversation with Mr. Qadhafi, Mr. Ban told a dinner in Los Angeles last night: “It was not an easy conversation. I told him, bluntly, that the violence must stop – immediately.”
According to media accounts, Mr. Qadhafi went on state TV yesterday to call on his supporters to fight those protesting against his four decades in power and today two pilots were reported to have crashed their warplane and parachuted to safety rather than execute orders to bomb the opposition-held city of Benghazi.
Mr. Ban applauded the decision of the Arab League to suspend Libya – “the first time the League has taken such an action on the domestic situation of one of its members” – and the UN Security Council’s statement condemning the use of force, demanding an immediate end to the violence, and calling on the Government to address the legitimate demands of the population, through national dialogue in full respect for human rights.
He told reporters today the he and his top advisers are closely watching developments in Bahrain, Yemen and other countries in North Africa and the Middle East where protests have erupted against entrenched leaders.
This afternoon he spoke by phone with Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa and he announced that tomorrow he will send UN Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe and senior economic, development and human rights officials to Egypt, where popular demonstrations ousted President Hosni Mubarak earlier this month.
Over the weekend, he will dispatch a senior official of the Department of Political Affairs, Jamal Benomar, to Tunisia, where the current wave of popular demonstrations first crested, forcing President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country.
He welcomed the decision of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to convene a special session on Libya on Friday, including the possible establishment of an international inquiry into the events there, and he voiced concern for people fleeing the country, noting that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has appealed to neighbours in Europe and North Africa not to return them.
Mr. Ban, who has spoken repeatedly with leaders of the region in the weeks since unrest first erupted, noted in his speech last night that for years the UN has been calling attention to the so-called “youth bulge” in the Arab world. In some countries over 60 to 70 per cent of the population is under 30.
“Our Arab Human Development Report has consistently chronicled the need for economic, social and political reform across the region. In particular, it emphasized what we called a ‘deficit of democracy’ and the need for political leaders to address it. Now the situation has exploded onto the streets,” he said.
“The changes underway in the Middle East are historic. Whether in Libya or elsewhere, our message must be consistent and strong: no violence. The time for change is now. The United Nations stands ready to assist the people of the region in meeting the challenges of this great transition.”